Christina Herrera, Type 2: Heart-to-Heart

Christina Herrera, Type 2: Heart-to-Heart


– Please give a very warm
welcome to Christina Herrera. (audience applause) – How many of us have hoped
to fly right under the radar? Whether it was at work, someone
staring at you at the bar, or the cop because you
just ran a red light. Me, yeah. That nervous feeling, looking back, hoping he doesn’t move from his spot. Well I definitely wished just that when it came to my health. But with my family’s medical history that was not going to be the case. The first time I remember
being on the radar I really didn’t ask for it. I was in high school, I was
on the JV basketball team, we were the North Dallas Bulldogs. And I fully intended to
be a Bulldog benchwarmer. But that year the varsity
team went on strike after a coaching change. Suddenly the inexperienced
JV was in uniform and we were playing ball. The varsity team was
trying to prove a point and they weren’t going to help. I learned then, that in this world, there was going to be
people, areas and events in our lives that are
gonna want to take us down. But I was gonna fight. In the last 12 years I’ve
also lost three members of my immediate family, my
mother, my younger sister, and my dad, who died just this summer. The discovery I made was that each family member had diabetes and without taking care of their numbers, led to their deaths from heart disease. It’s been a tough 12 years. Did you know, people with
diabetes and heart disease can have their life expectancy
shortened by 12 years? Knowing what I knew about
my family’s medical history, the last thing I wanted
was to be on any radar that indicated heart disease or diabetes. I’m a teacher, I had done my homework and I realized I could be next. After my younger sister, Jessica died from a sudden cardiac arrest in her sleep at the age of 37, I attempted
to watch what I ate, developed a nice workout routine, started eating more salads. But in the summer of
2018, I did find myself in the emergency room with chest pains and shortness of breath. My blood pressure was off the charts. I hadn’t done enough, were all
those salads even worth it? The doctor told me
everything looked great, there was no heart damage and
I thought for a split second, “Maybe, just maybe, I got this.” But without Doctor Wright’s deep dive into my family’s medical history, I wouldn’t be standing here today. He asked me to stay an
extra night for observations and said he could conduct a stress test the following morning. I agreed, it was only
Tuesday and I could still be at work on Thursday and make it on time for Saturday’s graduation. You know, as a teacher, my students’ lives are never far from my mind. On stress test day, I was ready for it. I was gonna run my butt
off on that treadmill, I ran for six minutes straight, on an incline and when I
finished I looked at him like, “Where’s my medal?” Well, I didn’t get any medal, not exactly. Long story short, my reward
was another night’s stay and a heart cath on Thursday. I’d still make it into
work by Friday, right? No question on my mind. Well I didn’t make it into work on Friday. The heart cath showed I had two arteries that were 75% blocked. My doctor explained that he
would need to perform surgery to replace the blocked arteries. Me, I had never had any form of surgery so obviously that was out of the question. I asked, “What else could he do?” Oh, you want another option? Sure, I’ll put you on medication
and I’ll see you in a year with a full blown heart attack, not knowing if I’ll be able
to help you survive it. I was on the receiving
end of a reality check not totally unlike the kind
I dish out to my students. Okay, I’ll do it, when
do we schedule surgery? He told me tomorrow morning. It hit me then, I would be missing, I would be missing graduation on Saturday. But he reassured me because I would me making
more graduations to come. I underwent a triple
bypass and yes I did say two blocked arteries before. They found another blocked
artery during surgery. I never imagined that at age 44 I would have open heart surgery, but I do have my zipper scar to prove it. The night before surgery I
began to mend the details of my life, I called my boss,
I spoke to my office manager, I made sure that our
son was taken care of. The one thing I couldn’t do
was tell my older sister. I wanted to protect her
from more heartache. Our mother, a type 1 diabetic, died during her stint operation. I wanted my sister to
see the positive result of this surgery, I didn’t
want her in the waiting room, I didn’t want her worried,
crying, thinking the worst, I refused to let any negative thoughts in. In fact, I refused to know exactly what the whole surgery entailed, even though they did explain
the whole procedure to me. I did receive a visit
from the hospital chaplain right before surgery and I wondered aloud, “How could I have let
it get to this point? “Here I was after my baby sister’s death “being proactive, being health conscious, “how did I still end up here? “Was it even worth it?” I will always remember
what she said to me, “What if these last two years “has been to get you through this?” Two days after surgery I was
walking up and down the hall. Far more fortunate than
others on my floor, those salads, they paid off. And another lesson, a
different perspective goes a long way. I wouldn’t be here without the support of a small circle of friends. My supporters consisted
of a close-knit group of girl friends that
came and took care of me during my recovery. They went out, bought groceries for me, they came by on the daily
to check on my needs. My son’s dad made sure
our son was taken care of. All I had to do was focus on recovery. My high school friends, Ray Alvarez and fellow thespian, Juanita Cano, heard about what had
happened and they decided to pay me a visit. During the visit the idea of
running a 5K was brought up. And at first I thought, “Who in their right mind
would want to run a 5K?” Well, I know, you’re looking at her. The more I found out about what
Juanita had had to overcome, I thought to myself,
“Who am I not to try?” I realized I wanted to part of a team, a team where we might be a little broken but living a little bit
longer and giving it all we had, slow and steady. Know Diabetes by Heart research reveals that people living with type 2 diabetes are motivated by their
connections with family, friends and a community that understands what they’re going through. Knowing what I knew about
my family’s medical history, I had to claim my second chance, my take two. I must be more proactive. In my family alone, we had
lost already two generations due to heart complications of diabetes. You may be wondering what happened to that JV turned varsity basketball team, we lost every game. (audience laughs) It was brutal. But what I learned was that no matter if I started winning or continued to lose, no matter what I got myself into, I’m leaving my heart on
that court, on that field, on that trail and even in my classroom. Sometimes things don’t turn
out the way you planned and some losses are harder
to take than others. The year I lost my dad to heart
complications from diabetes, yes, some losses are harder to take, but those moments are when you identify who your true supporters are. In the darkness my
friends were there for me, literally making me run when I wasn’t sure I could even walk. When I first took up the
challenge to run my first 5K, I was running a mile at 27 minutes. I finished my first 5K within 56 minutes and that was with three months training. Now I can proudly announce
that I’m running my mile at 10 minutes. (audience cheers) My A1C is under 5.3. (audience cheers) My cholesterol is down 20 points. (audience cheers) And I can feel and see
the results in my body. I feel good, I’m proud of where I am, I’m not trying to fly
under a radar anymore. I’m looking my family
history square in the eye and saying, “You know, it stops with me.” I will, sorry, I will get back up when I stumble and I will ask for help when I need it. The crazy idea of running
a 5K was a turning point, not so crazy after all. I’m about to tackle my
first 10K with my champion by my side and from there, who knows, but this is my life and I’m
going to live it every day. (audience cheers) Thank you so much.